Pirate editions commissioned by the state


Even up to the mid-eighteenth century, the book market in the Habsburg Monarchy was still in a rudimentary stage of development; outside Vienna there were only a handful of efficient printers and publishers – until former gooseherd Thomas von Trattner built up his publishing empire.

Meanwhile, however, my dear Trattner, we inform you that it is Our principle of state to have books published, almost nothing is available, much must be printed. … Print away. Sonnenfels will tell you what.

Maria Theresa is alleged to have encouraged Thomas Trattner to pirate editions

Joseph II largely suspended censorship in 1780 and gave orders that ‘criticism, as long as it is not libellous, should be allowed to find any mark it wants, from ruler to subject’, if the author ‘is willing to publish his name and therefore stands as guarantor for the truth of what he has written’.

Quoted from Vocelka, Karl: Glanz und Untergang der höfischen Welt. Repräsentation, Reform und Reaktion im habsburgischen Vielvölkerstaat, Vienna 2004 (Österreichische Geschichte 1699–1815), 254.

In a state in which the love of reading has always predominated, in which the writings of all Enlightened nations have always been read, … where those hungry for knowledge have long been working away against the stout dam and were already close to breaking through; in such a state the removal of hindrances and the extension of press freedom must necessarily be followed by a flood of pamphlets

Aloys Blumauer commented on the huge rise in the numbers of pamphlets and small broadsheets following the suspension of censorship in 1780.

For they alone concern themselves with tracking down unobserved and exposing dangerous affairs of all kinds before they come to fruition, and consequently work against the secret enemies of the state and internal security all the more energetically when the latter hide themselves from public surveillance and do not realize that they are being observed clandestinely.

In the ‘Secret Instruction’ of 1786 Joseph II approves the setting up of a secret police.

Thomas von Trattner (1717–1798), one of the first large-scale entrepreneurs in Austria, bought a book-printing business in Vienna in 1748. He became a court book printer and was later even ennobled. Trattner made most of his money from reprints; at that time pirated editions were common practice for economic reasons, as costs remained low and interest in books and reading had to be generated. In 1752 Thomas von Trattner was commissioned by Maria Theresa to print schoolbooks and textbooks for the entire Monarchy. He built the Trattnerhof on the Graben in Vienna as the headquarters of his business and also had branches in all parts of the Monarchy. He published Enlightenment literature and scientific works, in particular in the field of medicine.

Soon other publishing houses opened in the capital and book production expanded enormously. One hundred and ten different periodicals – journals, newspapers, magazines and almanacs – were published in Vienna. However, the educated public’s thirst for reading was limited by censorship. A list of banned books was itself banned in 1777, as it was feared that the list of titles could have been misused as a means of selling forbidden literature. Pedlars distributed trivial writings, but even this form of distribution was forbidden in 1789. Large libraries included those of the nobility and monastic institutions and first and foremost the Vienna Court Library, which with its 170,000 volumes was the largest in the German-speaking lands.
The brief suspension of censorship under Joseph II in 1780 brought an explosive rise in literary production, but police supervision of citizens was soon intensified again, bringing an end to their freedom to read. Censorship was tightened further under Leopold II, but nevertheless Enlightenment literature now began to penetrate the Danube Monarchy, albeit later than in the rest of Western Europe. Strict censorship prevailed during the Vormärz period. In the course of the nineteenth century publishing became increasingly specialized and the book market underwent professionalization and commercialization.

Julia Teresa Friehs